This “sacred conversation” from a major private collection reconciles the Roman and Bolognese schools under the kind eyes of three saints.
Giuseppe Vermiglio (1585-1635), The Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine between St. Agatha and St. John the Baptist, oil on canvas (transposed), 170 x 196 cm.
Mary, the central feature of a symmetrical composition, sits enthroned on a mound, holding Jesus in her lap. At her feet is Saint Catherine, whose rich brocade garment, indicating noble origins, contrasts with a sinister fragment of a wheel, her attribute and the instrument of her torture. As a reward for her grisly ordeal, the Child slips a ring on her finger, consecrating his Mystical Marriage with the young Christian girl martyred in Alexandria around 312, according to The Golden Legend. Summoned as privileged witnesses, two other saints stand beside them: on the right, the ascetic John the Baptist accompanied by the Paschal Lamb; on the left, a strangely more casual and secular-looking Agatha of Sicily leaning on a balustrade, brandishing a palm leaf, her tortured breasts on a dish. The iconography is in keeping with the traditional theme of "sacred conversations" dear to Italian artists; but the painting also complies with the directives of the Counter-Reformation by delivering a message that is very easy to decipher. Peaceful chiaroscuro blends with a classicising balance. University of Pavia Professor Francesco Frangi confirmed the unsigned work’s attribution to Giuseppe Vermiglio. Born in Alessandria, Piedmont, in 1604 the young artist, in search of training, went to Rome, where Caravaggio’s pictorial revolution strongly influenced him. Several of his religious paintings attest to this, including The Incredulity of Saint Thomas altarpiece painted in 1612 for the Roman church of San Tommasso dei Cenci. In 1619, Vermiglio returned to northern Italy, namely Milan, where his style eventually softened under the dual influence of Bologna’s Annibale Carracci and Guido Reni. That led to this Mystical Marriage, a perfect expression of Vermiglio's style in the 1620s-1630s, which climaxed in his most famous work, The Nativity, at Milan’s Brera Gallery. A precious testimony to this pivotal artistic moment, our large canvas boasts a prestigious provenance. In the 19th century, it was one of the cornerstones of a major private collection for which its owner built an incredible museum-like gallery in his Savoy castle, in the Alps. The painting’s latest home has been a Paris Left Bank mansion. Now it is ready for a new life.